Generally, a hospital is an organization that provides medical care for patients. The services offered by hospitals may differ from one hospital system to another, depending on the types of facilities they operate. Some hospitals provide a full range of medical services, including emergency care and rehabilitation services. Others focus on treatment of specific diseases, such as obstetrics and gynecology. Some hospitals provide only outpatient services. Those hospitals may be for-profit or not-for-profit.
Hospitals are essential elements of a healthy referral network, providing continuous access to medical care for patients with complex medical conditions. Hospitals are also an important component of Universal Health Coverage. Hospitals are complex institutions that require significant maintenance and operating costs. These costs are largely funded by governmental contributions and may be supplemented by private health insurance funds.
Hospitals also provide a setting for education of health-care professionals. They have an important role in community outreach, care coordination, and clinical research. However, hospitals have faced many challenges throughout history.
Originally, hospitals were built primarily as almshouses. They were also associated with religious groups, such as the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St. John, who established a hospital in 1099 in the Holy Land. Other religious organizations founded hospitals, including the Benedictines, who founded more than 2,000 hospitals. During the Middle Ages, religion continued to play a central role in hospitals, especially in Europe. The Christian tradition emphasized the close connection between the sufferer and the community.
In many developed countries, hospitals are largely financed by private health insurance funds. However, hospitals in developing countries have more patients than beds. Hospitals may have to rely on additional resources, such as patient payments or out-of-pocket payments from uninsured patients. In such cases, the average length of stay (ALOS) will be shorter. The ALOS may also vary drastically from unit to unit within the same hospital.
In developing countries, the bed-occupancy rate can be over 100 percent. In these countries, the average length of stay in an acute-care hospital is relatively short. Chronic-care hospitals, on the other hand, will have a longer ALOS.
In the United States, there are more than 5000 hospitals. In addition, there are many hospitals associated with universities. Some hospitals are owned by municipalities, religious orders, or for-profit companies. There are also some hospitals that are owned by the federal government, such as the military and veterans hospitals. Other hospitals are owned by private health insurance corporations.
During the Middle Ages, hospitals were supported by secular authorities. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, a gradual transfer of the responsibility for institutional health care took place. In England, 200 hospitals were established to meet the growing social needs. During the Crusades, the number of hospitals grew even faster.
In the United States, some states require hospitals to have a license. There are also several different types of hospital licenses. Some states require a hospital license for a hospital with an in-patient unit, while others require a hospital license for a rehab facility or nursing home.